Quick—name something that irritates you every day.
If the first thing that comes to mind is your commute, you're not alone.
Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) recently conducted a survey of Illinoisans and found that our go-to transportation options—whether driving, taking transit, riding a bike or walking—rankle 50 percent of us at least once a day and irk most of us several times a week.
For Andrea B. in Peoria, it's the same darned potholes she has dodged every day for three years on her route to work. For Sara D. in Chicago, it's the unpredictability of her sometimes fast, sometimes “slow as molasses” train ride. For Aldwin J. of Naperville—and countless others—it far too often “takes too long to get from point A to point B, even though they are not that far away.”
The survey allowed participants not only to tell us about their transportation frustrations but also to show us by uploading photos and videos. You can see it all: craggy sidewalks; potholes the size of sewer caps; crumbling bridges that don't inspire confidence in those who deign to cross them; cyclists squeezed into bike lanes inches from fast-moving vehicles; traffic creeping along or at a dead stop; and so on.
These depressing vignettes—respresentative of the hundreds we collected—tell a powerful story when viewed as a whole: Illinois voters experience a great deal of angst about our transportation system.
And it's more than “pain and suffering.” A few survey respondents put a number on their personal costs. For example, one of the potholes Andrea B. in Peoria dodges bested her, leading to an $800 repair bill. These individualized data personify well-documented regional and statewide costs: Andrea's repair bill was just a fraction of the extra $3.7 billion a year Illinois drivers spend on repairs and operating costs when they run up against the three-quarters of our roads that are in mediocre condition, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning recently launched a website whose beauty belies the alarming statistics it aggregates: Drivers in metropolitan Chicago spend 71 hours a year stuck in traffic, up from 18 hours a year in 1982. Kevin O., who responded to MPC's survey, lamented, “I've wasted a whole hour tonight when I should be at home with my family” and noted that it happens once every couple of weeks. Umayr A. further elaborated on the unpredictability of Chicago traffic, saying “you never know how long it'll take.”
Cars and trucks are stuck at freight crossings more than 7,800 hours each weekday in metropolitan Chicago alone. “I usually take the Metra into the city, but when I do drive, I buffer an extra 30 minutes. Freight trains have been known to sit still over 25 minutes,” Abby C. told us. “The worst part—it cuts off flow to the hospital, and I often see ambulances stuck.”
Driving is roughly 12 times more expensive than taking transit. However, convenient transit remains inaccessible for many people in the Chicago region, much less statewide. For some, it's hurting their job prospects. Justin S., a student who doesn't own a car, told us, “Because the nearest train station is 3 miles away, I constantly have to ask my friends for rides to the station. This prevents me from having an off-campus job and severely limits my mobility.”
Whether you give more weight to the facts or to Illinoisans' clearly stated frustrations, it's clear: We need to stop throwing up our hands at this problem and start unleashing the pent-up demand for better transportation options in Illinois.
This piece originally appeared in Crain's Chicago Business on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. It has been altered slightly for The Connector.